Woodworking with All Ages

One of the many variations of Lodestar compared to traditional schools is that our Elementary Making, Art, & Design teacher, Ms. Ortiz, instructs mixed age groups, with students from kindergarten up to 3rd grade. This construct can make teaching structured lessons difficult in a classroom where students’ ages range from 5 years old to 8 years old. However, for the past quarter, students in Ms. Ortiz’s classes have completed a project in woodworking. This post will outline the framing and presentation of this project. 

To begin this unit, we first needed to create a woodworking studio, so between quarter 1 and 2, I helped Ms. Ortiz reorganize her classroom, delineating between areas for instruction and areas for woodworking. This woodworking area became the “Model Shop” with two woodworking tables (created from re-purposed doors and extendable table legs), one of which has vises and drills, and the other has saw and miter boxes.

To introduce woodworking, Ms. Ortiz spent the first week of the quarter framing rules for the Model Shop, focusing on safety. When working with the tools, all students are required to wear safety goggles and gloves, and they all tested out the different tools before actually entering the Model Shop. Students were able to practice hammering nails into tree stumps, drilling holes into corks or pieces of wood, and driving screws into those pre-drilled holes. Throughout these initial skill-builders, Ms. Ortiz emphasized measuring, marking, and guiding.

Sample inspiration board for “speed”

Once students had the opportunity to test out the various tools and techniques, Ms. Ortiz introduced their main project: a speed form. The focus on two concepts (speed + form) is accessible to all students in each class, including the kindergartners. To start, she had each class brainstorm what it meant for something to be speedy, and what constituted a form. This was documented on the board with bubble diagrams. Next, the students moved on to creating inspiration boards for speed – they cut and pasted different magazine images that they thought were speedy, mainly animals, cars, boats, etc. They used this to brainstorm the final shape of their speed form.

Sample project plan

Students then transferred their inspiration for speed to a project plan: starting with a 2” x 2” x 8” block, what steps do they need to take to create a form that is speedy? The requirements for this plan are that the block needs to be altered, and that it needs to be “speedy”. For example, what parts would they need to saw off, or what would they want to screw / nail / glue back on? When this process was diagrammed out, students could move on to the Model Shop to start creating their speed form!

In the Model Shop, students had to first measure and cut an 8” block from a 10 ft piece of 2” x 2”, using what they learned during the skill builders at the beginning of the unit. Then they could create their form while following their project plan, figuring out where to cut and at what angle, or how to reattach a piece of wood. This stage of the project continued for many weeks, until all students completed manufacturing their speed forms. They could then paint and decorate them to show how their inspiration board and project plan has come to life!

Although all classes completing this project were of mixed ages, every student ended the unit with a tangible product to showcase at Winter Expo. Older students were seen as role models and helpers to the younger ones, who occasionally had difficulty operating the tools. And younger students were sometimes inspiration to the older ones – if a kindergartner can do this, then I can too!

About Claire Tiffany-Appleton

Claire Tiffany-Appleton is currently an Americorps VISTA member serving through MakerEd at Lodestar Charter School. She assists in the Making, Art, Design and Lighthouse Creativity Lab Programs. She recently graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics from UC Berkeley, and is excited to start her journey with making!